Food Chains

Food Chains: From Farmyard to Shopping Cart

Warren Belasco
Roger Horowitz
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Food Chains
    Book Description:

    In recent years, the integrity of food production and distribution has become an issue of wide social concern. The media frequently report on cases of food contamination as well as on the risks of hormones and cloning. Journalists, documentary filmmakers, and activists have had their say, but until now a survey of the latest research on the history of the modern food-provisioning system-the network that connects farms and fields to supermarkets and the dining table-has been unavailable. In Food Chains, Warren Belasco and Roger Horowitz present a collection of fascinating case studies that reveal the historical underpinnings and institutional arrangements that compose this system. The dozen essays in Food Chains range widely in subject, from the pig, poultry, and seafood industries to the origins of the shopping cart. The book examines what it took to put ice in nineteenth-century refrigerators, why Soviet citizens could buy ice cream whenever they wanted, what made Mexican food popular in France, and why Americans turned to commercial pet food in place of table scraps for their dogs and cats. Food Chains goes behind the grocery shelves, explaining why Americans in the early twentieth century preferred to buy bread rather than make it and how Southerners learned to like self-serve shopping. Taken together, these essays demonstrate the value of a historical perspective on the modern food-provisioning system.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0444-5
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Chapter 1 Making Food Chains: The Book
    (pp. 1-6)
    Roger Horowitz

    I begin my food-history classes by drawing a simple line on the blackboard with the word “farm” at one end and the word “dinner” at the other. Then I ask the students to explain some of the steps that are necessary for food to move from one end to the other. Within a few minutes the simple line is a complex tree bristling with stages such as “processing,” “trucking,” “scientific research,” “retailing,” and so on. When it starts to get too hard to read the board—which does not take long—I stop, to make the point of how complicated...

  4. Part I. Overview
    • Chapter 2 How Much Depends on Dinner?
      (pp. 9-15)
      Warren Belasco

      The science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein is credited with popularizing the saying “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” in his 1966 novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Or maybe credit should go to Barry Commoner, whose fourth “Law of Ecology” (1971) said about the same thing, albeit more grammatically.¹ Either way, the context was the late 1960s, when Americans were beginning to confront the environmental costs of their consumer economy. However, the “no free lunch” axiom dates at least as far back as the nineteenth century, when American saloons offered complimentary food as a way to lure...

    • Chapter 3 Analyzing Commodity Chains: Linkages or Restraints?
      (pp. 16-26)
      Shane Hamilton

      “Eating,” writes the modern-day agrarian intellectual Wendell Berry, “is an agricultural act.” An eloquent defender of the ecological and social benefits of small-scale farming, Berry is disturbed by the distancing of food consumers from farm producers in industrialized agriculture. Food, according to Berry, has become “pretty much an abstract idea—something [urban consumers] do not know or imagine—until it appears on the grocery shelf or on the table.”¹ The increasing distance from farm to fork and the complexity of the industrial food chain have led to what the writer Michael Pollan, following the sociologist Claude Fischler, labels the “omnivore’s...

  5. Part II. Animals
    • Chapter 4 Lard to Lean: Making the Meat-Type Hog in Post–World War II America
      (pp. 29-46)
      J. L. Anderson

      In July 2006 USA Today reported that pork was the “other ‘lite’ meat,” a play on the late 1980s National Pork Producers Council campaign that promoted pork as “the other white meat.” United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers announced that the pork tenderloin of 2006 was leaner than skinless chicken breast. Earlier generations knew pork as a flavorful but fatty meat, characterized by intramuscular fat and a layer of fat around each cut. The new development, however, was proof that pork was a healthy diet choice, although many pork aficionados argued that modern pork was easy to overcook and...

    • Chapter 5 The Chicken, the Factory Farm, and the Supermarket: The Emergence of the Modern Poultry Industry in Britain
      (pp. 47-61)
      Andrew C. Godley and Bridget Williams

      “Rationing and price control of feeding stuffs ends on August 1st,” declared the lead article of the British trade journal Poultry Farmeron March 14, 1953. A revolution in modern British agriculture was to follow, with the poultry industry utterly transformed through intensive rearing and factory farming. The resulting cheap chicken meat led to a revolution in the British diet. In 1950 British households consumed only around 1 million chickens. But by the mid-1960s, like many other things in the country, meat-eating habits were transformed. Over 150 million chickens were sold for consumption in 1965, and over 200 million by 1967....

    • Chapter 6 Trading Quality, Producing Value: Crabmeat, HACCP, and Global Seafood Trade
      (pp. 62-84)
      Kelly Feltault

      As I entered the company’s lobby, I was drawn to a brochure that announced “The Story of Crab: the Maryland Crab Cake.” The brochure featured an image of a succulent, golden crab cake made from the cultural food icon of the Chesapeake Bay region—Callinectes sapidus, or the blue crab. However, I was not in Maryland or even in America. I was in Bangkok at Pakfoods Incorporated, a Thai-owned multinational seafood corporation, waiting to meet with company executives. The crab cake on their brochure was made from a different species of swimming crab, Portunus pelagicus, harvested from the Gulf of...

  6. Part III. Processing
    • Chapter 7 Anchovy Sauce and Pickled Tripe: Exporting Civilized Food in the Colonial Atlantic World
      (pp. 87-107)
      Richard R. Wilk

      The opening of discussions about the long-term sustainability of present consumption patterns in developed countries has focused some attention on the general characteristics of long-distance supply chains. These chains are important because of the way they shift the environmental impact of production far away from the final location of consumption. In particular, those living in rich countries are often able to consume with little or no regard for the social and environmental costs of production, which may be borne by people in poor countries and regions. To use the language of ecological economics, the “externalities” of production—the costs that...

    • Chapter 8 What’s Left at the Bottom of the Glass: The Quest for Purity and the Development of the American Natural Ice Industry
      (pp. 108-125)
      Jonathan Rees

      In the nineteenth-century United States, ice was a unique commodity. It was both part of the food provisioning system and food itself. It had been used for centuries as a food preservation technique at the household level, but only in the early nineteenth century did ice become an item that was bought and sold. At first merchants such as the industry pioneer Frederic Tudor shipped it from New England to tropical climates. While technologically impressive, this feat made little money for the people who accomplished it because only the affluent could afford to buy ice at the necessary price after...

    • Chapter 9 Provisioning Man’s Best Friend: The Early Years of the American Pet Food Industry, 1870–1942
      (pp. 126-141)
      Katherine C. Grier

      For food-history scholars, “food” typically means what human beings eat, and yet over 60 percent of American households also shelter tens of millions of other eaters: pet animals. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, we spent $16 billion on commercial pet food in 2007, mostly to feed cats and dogs.¹ The story of this particular food chain has been unexamined, however. This chapter focuses on the development of dog food, particularly canned dog food prior to the 1942 ban on the use of cans for the mobilization for World War II. The emphasis here is a discussion of...

    • Chapter 10 Empire of Ice Cream: How Life Became Sweeter in the Postwar Soviet Union
      (pp. 142-157)
      Jenny Leigh Smith

      Standing in line in the Soviet Union was often a draining experience. Long queues were a fact of life for purchasing almost every Soviet good or service imaginable. Since much of the Soviet economy was based on a general rule of scarcity where demand was expected to outstrip supply as a matter of course, lines meant competition, sacrifice, and endurance for prospective consumers. By regularly waiting in queues for everyday necessities citizens surrendered time out of their private lives and publicly demonstrated their dependence on a state authority that meted out “just enough” and no more of staple items.¹ Even...

    • Chapter 11 Eating Mexican in a Global Age: The Politics and Production of Ethnic Food
      (pp. 158-176)
      Jeffrey M. Pilcher

      As late as the 1960s tacos, quesadillas, and mole poblano were largely unknown outside of Mexico and its former territories in the southwestern United States. Now you can buy Mexican food in restaurants ranging from Barrow, Alaska, to Sydney, Australia, and from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Thanks to packaged taco kits, eating Mexican is possible virtually anywhere in the world; NASA even launches tortillas into space to feed astronauts onboard the international space station.¹ This sudden proliferation resulted from a confluence of economic factors—new food processing and distribution technologies—and cultural politics—the emergence of tacos...

  7. Part IV. Sales
    • Chapter 12 The Aristocracy of the Market Basket: Self-Service Food Shopping in the New South
      (pp. 179-195)
      Lisa C. Tolbert

      Eudora Welty was an avid grocery shopper. Whenever her mother’s pantry failed to yield a necessary ingredient, Eudora was the first to volunteer for a trip to the neighborhood grocery store around the corner from her house in Jackson, Mississippi. Eudora remembered the neighborhood grocery store as her first taste of the world outside her home. For her, grocery shopping was never a chore; it was a fantasy experience. “The happiness of errands,” Welty explained, “was in part that of running for the moment away from home, a free spirit.” In contrast to the young Eudora, however, her mother, Chestina,...

    • Chapter 13 Making Markets Marxist? The East European Grocery Store from Rationing to Rationality to Rationalizations
      (pp. 196-216)
      Patrick Hyder Patterson

      As revealed in the new historiography of modern business and agricultural production, the food chains that linked farms, factories, stores, and shoppers in Western Europe and North America became increasingly intricate during the twentieth century: farming was industrialized, commodities optimized, processing Taylorized, products specialized, distribution rationalized, advertising customized, retailing standardized. In addition, with the growing movement of capital, corporations, commodities, and technologies across state borders, the system as a whole was, at least in some respects, globalized. Plenty of local variety remained, to be sure, as such innovations were introduced to different degrees at different times and in different places....

    • Chapter 14 Tools and Spaces: Food and Cooking in Working-Class Neighborhoods, 1880–1930
      (pp. 217-232)
      Katherine Leonard Turner

      Three women of immigrant families who lived in Pittsburgh between 1900 and 1930 had very different experiences with home cooking. One, born in 1901 in what is now Serbia, emigrated with her parents in 1905. In America her mother helped run the family confectionery store, cooked for her boarders, and put up enormous quantities of food for her family. Her daughter remembered, “In the fall [her mother] would make her own sauerkraut, make her own wine and butcher a 300-400 pound hog. Then she would have that smoked and some meat, it would be fresh. She would salt it down...

    • Chapter 15 Wheeling One’s Groceries around the Store: The Invention of the Shopping Cart, 1936–1953
      (pp. 233-252)
      Catherine Grandclément

      The shopping cart is undoubtedly a crucial linkage in the food-supply chain of the mass-consumption era.¹ It allows consumer goods to be freed from their weight and to travel easily from the store shelves to the cashier and then to the trunk of the customer’s car. However, for a time this seemingly simple device had a hesitant career, failing to meet a stable shape. And yet, this innovation was to confront a central “reverse salient” (to adopt Thomas Hughes’s formulation)² of the expansion of the supermarket, that is, a localized but acute problem that hampered the growth of the “system”...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 253-294)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 295-297)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 298-298)